By: Susan Hawthorne
Today is International Day of Bibliodiversity. The idea for such a day originated in South America and is being taken up by small and independent publishers around the world: from Latin America to the Middle East; across Africa and Asia; as well as among independents in Europe, North America and Australia.
Bibliodiversity is an analogue of biodiversity. The analogy suggests a concern with sustainability, differentiation according to the local community in which a publisher exists, and the importance of independent publishing in a world in which large global companies dominate the industry.
In 1993, Vandana Shiva wrote a book called Monocultures of the Mind. In it she was writing about biodiversity and the way in which agriculture was being turned into crop monocultures. She argues that small farmers play an important role in resisting the force of agricultural monocultures which are dominated by giant seed companies. By the same token, independent publishers resist the global mainstreaming of culture by insisting on their existence and publishing ground breaking and risky books that help to keep the culture vibrant. Vandana Shiva’s writing influenced my thinking on biodiversity and the politics of knowledge, and I wrote about this in my 2002 book, Wild Politics. The wild, the small, the uncultivated voice is always important in the development of new ideas. This is where radical feminism also plays an important role, seeding ideas long before they become topics of discussion in the mainstream.
At Spinifex Press, we juggle the local with the international. Our books exist simultaneously at the edge and at the centre. One example of this is the anthology Big Porn Inc edited by Melinda Tankard Reist and Abigail Bray, international in scope, it allows the real stories of women affected by pornography to get out into the mainstream. It has also drawn interest from the educational sector with a Highly Commended in the Australian Educational Publishing Awards, recommended for use by teachers in secondary schools.
Poet Sandy Jeffs is this week participating in the Brisbane Festival, with a show in development called Mad which choreographer, Meryl Tankard and composer Elena Katz-Chernin are working on. This is based on Sandy’s collection, Poems from the Madhouse which we first published in 1993.
Independent publishers can bring to the world the specificity of the local. Radical feminist theory and poetry are generally avoided by the global publishers, but the world would be a poorer place without these books, these ideas.
The work of small and independent publishers is not always seen, but it is the seed of the future. Think of the Hogarth Press which published Virginia Woolf; think of Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier of Shakespeare and Company Bookshop who published James Joyce’s Ulysses. Both these writers now live at the centre of an literary industry, but without the independent publishing of last century, would the work of these writers be known at all?